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Monday, July 27, 2020

Stories in Place: Bill & Debbie

(This pandemic has put a cramp in our camp, so I thought I'd start a series of short stories from our travels. You know, those kinds of stories that go around the campfire after a day of exploring, and may get repeated more than once over the years. I hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoy telling them. Pull up a camp chair and grab a beverage. Let's Story in Place together.)



The first time it happened, it was kind of funny.

"Bill! Debbie! So nice to see you again!"

A huge safari guide trotted over and embraced me in a giant bear hug, lifting me off my feet. "What are you two doing back here? I thought you were on your way to Serengeti!"

Mark and I exchanged looks of confusion. "We just got here this afternoon."

"No! Don't be kidders. Why have you come back?"

"We were in Tarangire this morning, and drove up today. We plan to see the crater tomorrow. I think you might be thinking of someone else?"

Now the confusion was on the guide's face. He shrugged his shoulders and laughed. "Well, welcome then. How are you liking Tanzania?"

That was our second day of camping on our own in Africa. 

Our next stop in Serengeti was a picnic area at the entrance of the park. We were gathering our paperwork to check in and pay our fees when another guide pulled up next to us and smiled in that familiar way of distant friends meeting again. "Bill! I can't believe we are seeing each other again so soon!" He shook Mark's hand through the open window and smiled across to me. "And Debbie, you look well!"

Almost every stop we made, we were "recognized" and greeted warmly by the wrong names. We decided it was a lucky thing that Bill and Debbie were so highly regarded. Imagine if they had been jerks? We stopped correcting people after awhile and just went with it. Why not? How could we possibly measure up to this mysterious other couple? Would they think so highly of us if we told them our real names? Or would they shake their heads and mutter in disgust about how this Mark and Kelly would never hold a candle to Bill and Debbie. Might as well take advantage of the goodwill and jovial conversation.

When we returned to Shaw Safari headquarters at Twiga Lodge two weeks later, we told the story of being mistaken for Bill and Debbie at every turn. The owner Paul Sweet laughed and explained "Bill and Debbie went on the same circuit you did and were ahead of you by a week. You must have run into some of the same guides they did along the way." Apparently it's hard to tell white people apart, especially when we travel in pairs in yellow Land Rovers. 

Someday, we'd like to run into the real Bill & Debbie. From what we've heard, they're a real kick in the pants.





Monday, May 25, 2020

Stories in Place: The Most Fun Possible

(This pandemic has put a cramp in our camp, so I thought I'd start a series of short stories from our travels. You know, those kinds of stories that go around the campfire after a day of exploring, and may get repeated more than once over the years. I hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoy telling them. Pull up a camp chair and grab a beverage. Let's Story in Place together.)



We looked over the map of Quartz Lake State Park and saw there was a trail that ran the circumference, a perfect way to get our bearings on our first day in Alaska. We went back to the camper and threw a few water bottles into a backpack, slapped a little more Deet behind our ears and set off to the trailhead. On our way back across the campground we ran into the host as she was loading firewood into a bin.

"Hey guys! Did you just get in today?"

We told her we had crossed the state border this morning and were excited to check out the scenery. Did she have any advice about what there was to see in the park? We thought we'd take the loop trail around the lake.

"Well, that's probably the best way to see it. You might want to go the other way though, the trail comes through at the other end of the campground over there." She pointed back the way we had come. "The other day, a mama grizzly made a kill and she and her cubs are hanging out working on the dead moose over this way. The carcass is pretty much right on the trail. You can go that way if you want, just keep an eye out."

Hiking suddenly didn't seem to be such a great idea. We might not be the smartest tools in the shed, but we did know that no matter which way you walked in a circle, you would eventually be coming back to where you started. And if that involved crossing between a grizzly and her food, or worse, between her and her cubs, we might not be completing that circle at all.

You know, it's kind of hot out and that lake looks really nice. Maybe we should go swimming instead.

Back at the camper, we changed into our suits and headed to the small beach and boat ramp area. We were the only ones there save for an older woman and a kid about nine years old. The boy was splashing in the shallow swimming area that was cordoned off from the rest of the lake. We threw our towels down a respectful distance from them and waded in. It wasn't warm, but it wasn't as cold as Tahoe like we thought it might be. I slowly waded in easing past that belly mark that's so hard to acclimate, as Mark took the plunge and swam out to the roped off edge. The little boy watched us a minute then turned to his grandma.

"Granny? Can I swim out to where that man is?"

"No Conner, I don't think he wants you hanging around him."

"But Granny, I'm sure it would be ok with him." he turned and looked at Mark. "It would be ok right?"

"I don't know, I think you should do whatever your Grandma says. I don't want you to get into trouble."  Grandma shook her head, with that 'I'm trying not to smile and give in' look.

"No, Conner, I don't want you to go out too far. I wouldn't be able to get to you if you got into trouble."

"He would save me! He can swim, didn't you see him?"

Mark swam back to where I was, trying not to lure the boy out too far and into trouble with his granny. We walked back up onto the beach and sat on our towels. Grandma told us she watches Conner for a few weeks every summer while his parents were working at the Air Force base near Fairbanks. We told her where we were from and chatted awhile. Meanwhile Conner looked back and forth between his Granny and Mark, looking impatient.

When Mark and I got up to go back in the water, Conner was ready with his pitch:

"You know Granny, when I come visit you I want to have a lot of fun and I think swimming out into the lake with this man would be really fun. I really want to have the most fun possible while I'm here. Can't I?"

This is how our motto came to be. This nine year old boy's pitch to his granny is printed on the back of our cards, on the intro to this blog, and is always in the backs of our minds no matter where we go or what we're doing. Shouldn't everyone have the most fun possible while they're here?

Conner was able to get his wish. Mark gave him pointers on how to keep afloat, and helped him touch the rope and swim back to shore. Conner was thrilled, and it made us smile. Having the most fun possible often includes making sure others are having fun too.

May you all have the most fun possible on this Memorial Day weekend. Stay safe my friends.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Stories in Place: The Toast

(This pandemic has put a cramp in our camp, so I thought I'd start a series of short stories from our travels. You know, those kinds of stories that go around the campfire after a day of exploring, and may get repeated more than once over the years. I hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoy telling them. Pull up a camp chair and grab a beverage. Let's Story in Place together.)



Traditions.

Everyone has them. We probably have too many for our own good. One that started in Hawaii many years ago involves viewing the sunset from the beach every night, toasting to another day well spent. This tradition has spilled over onto our camping trips: every night we try to find the best vantage point to watch the sun as it sets, clinking glasses (or plastic cups or water bottles or whatever we have at hand) as the sun sinks below the horizon.

On the last night of a week-long camping trip last year we found ourselves at Patrick's Point State Park on the northern coast of California. The fog had been so thick the entire day it might as well have been raining. The dogs were wet, cold and shivering, and we were all of those things plus annoyed with them for being so whiny. Just as we wiped them down and shoved them in the camper so we could start dinner in peace, the fog finally started to lift. Mark poured himself a glass of wine, I grabbed my water bottle and we walked out to the edge of the nearby cliff.

The sunset was looking to be a good one, but our vantage point here wasn't the best. The cliff was facing northwest, and the sun was around the corner, too many trees were blocking our view. We consulted the map board near the trailhead and we found a spot called "Wedding Rock" that looked to be just the right place to view a sunset.

We walked down the trail that followed the meandering cliff side, weaving in and out of the trees and up and down the gullies. Mud from all the fog made it slippery, and tree roots threatened to trip us up as we walked faster and faster trying to beat the sun.

"How far was it supposed to be?"

"I don't know, I think a mile? Two?"

"We're not going to make it. We better pick up speed."

Faster and faster, we ran down the trail, Mark holding his glass in front of him carefully as he tried to compensate for the joggling pace. A little slopped over now and then and he would lick his hand. None would be going to waste. "Go go go! We're almost there!"

We could see the large rock ahead of us, the trail weaving it's way down the cliff side before a stairway cut into the stone switchbacked up the huge chunk of granite. The sun was just touching the horizon and starting to cast an orange glow. Why do we do these things? Just as we were reaching the last set of stairs, Mark caught his foot on the edge of a rock and almost took a tumble. He recovered, but most of his wine did not.

"Craaaaaaappppp!"

Twenty-nine years of marriage entitles one to certain rights. There are always times when it's best to sympathize and express concern and sympathy. And then there are those other times, hard earned through years of sacrifice for the sake of harmony.

I started giggling, feeling sort of superior for having brought my water bottle with an actual lid. I tried to hold it back, but I was not winning the battle. I could hardly breathe from trying to climb all those stairs while laughing so hard my eyes were watering and blurring my vision. Mark took it pretty well. He glared a little and beat me to the top, just as the sun sunk below the ocean edge. I staggered to the rock wall once I caught up and looked in awe. It really was beautiful.

With what little was left in the glass, we toasted another successful trip, and another beautiful sunset. All was right in the world, and that half glass of remaining wine was sipped as we admired the fading colors from our perch on Wedding Rock. We lingered a while enjoying the scenery then started down the stairs.

"Did you bring a flashlight?"

"I thought you did."